Even without knowing you, I can almost guarantee that you have a to-do list. And if you’re anything like me, you have a half-dozen or more! We make these lists all the time with the goal of remembering important tasks, and in hopes they will prompt us to start check items off.

Knowing what you need and want to do is important, of course, but have you ever given much thought to the things you don’t want to do? Probably not.

The truth is, a to-don’t list is probably even more important than a to-do list.

Having clarity about what you don’t need or want to do can go a long way toward helping you live a better-quality life.

There are many ways you can go about creating such a list. You can have make one each morning to help you reduce distractions and focus on pressing priorities. You can create a big-picture one to help you stay on your intended life path. You can also make them for various aspects of your life—professional, finances, relationships, parenting, etc.

No matter how you use them, the goal of to-don’t lists is to reduce distractions, temptations, and obligations so you can stay on your intended path.

Doing the right things is far more important than doing #AllTheThings. Getting rid of tasks and activities that you shouldn’t be doing will free up time and energy for you to do what matters most. And that will make you more effective, efficient, and happy.

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker, Managing for Business Effectiveness

How to Write a To-Don’t List

You need a guide for knowing what to embrace (to-do) and when to intentionally say no (to-don’t).

To do create your to-don’t list, identify what you want to let go of. What actions in your life suck up time, make you feel trapped, or are completely unrewarding? They may be things you want to completely eliminate or just hand off to someone else. Some will be big, others will be small.

Here are some guiding questions to help you think about what should go on your to-don’t list:

  • What are you priorities?
  • What do you want to get out of your (business, relationship, parenting, finances etc.)?
  • What are you currently doing that won’t help you achieve those goals or that aren’t contributing to success?
  • When are you least productive?
  • What do you find yourself distracted by over and over?
  • When do you most often get sidetracked?
  • What activities are you hardest to complete?
  • What do I always regret saying yes to?
  • What do I do out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or “should”?
  • What always leaves me feeling “icky” later?

Here are some examples of items that could end up on your to-don’t list:

  • I won’t answer the phone on the first ring.
  • I won’t immediately say yes or no to requests.
  • I won’t answer email before 10 am.
  • I won’t drink coffee after 2 pm.
  • I won’t accept meetings or calls from someone I wouldn’t have invited myself.
  • I won’t go to sleep after 11 pm.
  • I won’t try to win the regard of NAME.
  • I won’t use “just” or “sorry” without thoughtful consideration.
  • I won’t be lured by gossip.
  • I won’t feel guilty for saying no.
  • I won’t live in the past.

Write your to-don’t list on paper and post it above your desk. Keep a copy in your planner, in Trello, or in an app like ToDon’t so you can always access it when you are faced with a decision. The goal is to start relying on the to-don’t list as much as we get focused on our to-do lists.

Want to learn more? Read How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.